REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 10, 1999 — Y2K is only 52 days away, and computer users everywhere want to make sure that their computer software functions smoothly into the next millennium. To help address these concerns, Microsoft has devoted time and effort to provide customers with the information and resources they need to prepare for the Year 2000. In addition, Microsoft has been evaluating its own internal Y2K readiness.
How is Microsoft handling this double-barreled Y2K effort? To find out, PressPass spoke with Don Jones, Microsoft’s director of Year 2000 Readiness, and Kevin Johnson, vice president of Microsoft’s Product Support Services.
Press Pass: For some time, Microsoft has been advising users to address their Y2K readiness. How long has Microsoft been addressing its own Y2K needs and what sort of Y2K plan does it have?
Don Jones: Microsoft has had date testing as part of its software release process for as long as I can remember — over a decade. Bob Herbold, our chief operating officer, leads a corporate task force that has met every month for the past few years to drive the Year 2000 efforts of each major division within the company. So these divisions have worked to identify Year 2000 issues in their operations. Our product groups have tested over 4000 products and languages, and almost 98 percent are compliant with the recommended actions taken. In addition, each of the divisions has completed its contingency plans as part of its Year 2000 projects.
Press Pass: What has Microsoft been doing to help its customers prepare for the year 2000?
Kevin Johnson: We’ve created the Microsoft Year 2000 Resource CD with software updates and tools that customers can use; we’ve created a variety of Year 2000 Web sites with resources and information; we’ve put our Product Support Services (PSS) personnel through extensive Year 2000 training; we’ve evaluated and tested our PSS infrastructure; and we’ve held several
of our customer support systems.
Press Pass: Tell us more about your software testing. How can customers take advantage of what you’ve learned?
Don Jones: Microsoft has tested more than 4,000 software applications. Of those 4,000, nearly 98 percent comply with our Year 2000 test criteria and therefore meet our definition of Y2K compliant. Maybe that’s why very few of our current customer calls — about three tenths of one percent — are Year 2000-related.
I think this speaks volumes about the Y2K testing and product quality we did to get ready for Y2K. Where needed, we’ve made software updates available free of charge on our Year 2000 Web site for our users to download or install. Customers can also get software updates for some Microsoft products, information and tools from our Microsoft Year 2000 Resource CD. The Year 2000 Web site and Microsoft Year 2000 Resource CD have both been localized into 14 languages in order to reach a large number of Microsoft customers internationally.
Also available on the Web site or the Microsoft Year 2000 Resource CD is the Microsoft Year 2000 Product Analyzer, which scans a user’s hard drive for specific Microsoft applications and then reports back to the user on the compliance ratings of those applications. Where appropriate, the Microsoft Year 2000 Product Analyzer also provides a link to software updates or further information on our Web site. The CD is free and customers can order it from the Web site at www.microsoft.com/y2k or, in United States and Canada, by calling 1-888-MSFT-Y2K.
To make Y2K planning as streamlined as possible for customers, we’ve created four different Web site sections: one for home and small business customers; one for IT professionals; one for people building applications for Microsoft software; and one for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
Press Pass: You mentioned that Microsoft has tested its infrastructure and trained its product support professionals to handle Y2K calls. How extensive has that been?
Kevin Johnson: Very extensive. We’ve analyzed phone capacity, IT systems backup for both data and power, and additional lab environments for enhanced product support capabilities. We have redundant power systems, including back-up generators, at key locations in the unlikely event we lose power.
In the United States, we have three product support centers: one in Charlotte, NC; one in Las Colinas, Texas; and one in Redmond, Wash. If any one of those goes down because of a local power failure, there are plans to have the support calls routed to the other available support centers. And if one of our international centers goes down, we have plans to have the support calls routed to another available support center.
PSS personnel are undergoing Y2K training, including lab exercises that simulate
Y2K support calls. Both PSS and the product groups have been working to establish thorough staffing plans to provide customers with rapid assistance during the critical time periods.
Press Pass: What else has Microsoft done to prepare for any date-related software issues that may emerge after the new year?
Don Jones: We’ve undertaken several dry runs where we’ve tested for Year 2000 date related issues in our systems, starting with the telephone systems to which customers would call, and continuing on to the testers who would reproduce the problem, the Microsoft developers who would write software code to make the software update, and finally the localization teams who would localize the software update into the relevant languages.
On the basis of this testing, it is our goal that if an issue with a Microsoft product is found at midnight on December 31 in New Zealand, we could possibly have a workaround available before the New Year even begins in Los Angeles. We recognize that there are a number of factors at issue that could impact our goal. Nevertheless, considering all the complexity that surrounds this process, that’s really amazing.
Press Pass: When the date rollover finally comes, what can Microsoft’s customers expect from you?
Kevin Johnson: Customers will be able to access our worldwide support organization 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the critical time period (assuming they have the necessary utility and telephone services where they are located). As calls come in, PSS support professionals will work on the issue first to see if it is Year 2000 related, they will then determine if there is a workaround or an existing solution already available. If an issue requires Microsoft product development, the corresponding product group will provide programmatic support. We’ll have testing and development available if product issues are found. In addition, our Y2K Mission Control Center will provide information to customers in real time as it becomes available around the world.
That control center is located on the Microsoft campus in Redmond and will be staffed 24 hours a day from December 28 until January 4. The Redmond team will be in contact with Microsoft locations around the world. As midnight moves from time zone to time zone, the communications center will receive information from our internal operations data centers, Product Support Services, field sales offices, strategic partners, PC manufacturers and, most importantly, our customers. The communications center staff will analyze the information to determine if it is Y2K-related, will coordinate our response and will get the information out to our customers and partners through our Web site, toll-free telephone hotline, and email-based response mechanisms, as appropriate.
Press Pass: How should customers contact Microsoft on January 1 if they think they have a Y2K-related issue?
Don Jones: Customers should start by first visiting our Year 2000 Web site at www.microsoft.com/y2k , where we’ll publish Year 2000 information updates in real-time. We’ll also have recorded messages at our worldwide Year 2000 call centers; customers in United State and Canada should call 1-888-MSFT-Y2K . We’ll use email to disseminate
updates if needed. Customers can call PSS for more information and to speak with support professionals.
International customers with Y2K-related problems can also contact their local Microsoft subsidiaries. They can link to these sites from the Year 2000 Web site.
Press Pass: What are Y2K-related calls going to cost customers?
Don Jones : We won’t charge for Year 2000 support incidents if we determine that a Year 2000 issue involving a Microsoft product is the cause of the support incident. This applies to all U.S. and international customers.
Press Pass: Will on-site support also be available from Microsoft during the critical period?
Kevin Johnson: Yes. We offer on-site support on an as-needed basis. Remote On-Site Support Teams have been designated to handle critical Y2K situations and are located worldwide. Of course, due to geographical limitations in some parts of the world, on-site support and response times may vary.
Press Pass: Is there any chance that date-related problems will go on beyond the Year 2000?
Don Jones: We’ve looked at that, because we define Y2K compliance in terms of three key dates. The first was September 9, 1999, or 9/9/99. Programmers may have used the 9/9/99 date field to signify an action, such as
“stop processing,” “delete this record,”
etc. We tested for that and had no product issues either reported by our customers or affecting our business operations.
We also tested for the date transition, December 31 and January 1. The last key date we tested for was February 29, 2000. That’s because February 29, 2000 is very unusual as a leap year — it’s a mathematical quirk to have a leap year that’s divisible by 400, as this one is. So we’ve tested for that in our products as well.
Press Pass: You’ve had to gear up for major support events before, generally product launches. How does the Year 2000 compare to a typical product launch?
Don Jones: It’s very similar to the major launches we’ve done before, which is why we feel good about the plan we have in place. Both Y2K and product launches involve forecasting call volume and making sure developers are available should customers discover any issues. What we’re doing to prepare for the Year 2000 is very similar to what we did to prepare for the launch of Windows 95. Y2K has been the single largest cross-product software testing effort ever undertaken by Microsoft.
Press Pass: How many people will be on-site at Microsoft working on New Year’s Eve?
Don Jones: Globally, the number is about 2,000. That compares to about 200 people who work on-site over a typical weekend.
Press Pass: Is Microsoft doing anything special for the employees working over the holiday?
Don Jones: Yes. We’re asking a lot of people to come in and be available to help our customers should it be necessary over the holiday, so we want to make the time as pleasant for them as possible. We’re going to have a New Year’s Eve party with a disc jockey, dinner, and a champagne toast at midnight. Our employees can bring their spouses and children, and we’ll even host a separate children’s party.